Motorcyclist struck by lightning as thunderstorms roll through region

Motorcyclist struck by lightning as thunderstorms roll through region »Play Video
Photo of inside of helmet worn by motorcycle rider struck by lightning near Chehalis on Sept. 5, 2013. (Courtesy: Washington State Patrol)
SEATTLE -- A 60-year-old motorcyclist was struck by lightning early Thursday morning as he rode on I-5 in Chehalis during one of many thunderstorms that rolled through Western Washington.

The bolt came just after 9 a.m. as the man was riding in the northbound lanes about 1/2 mile south of 13th Street.

Martin Zapalac said the biker had just passed him and was about 10 car lengths ahead of him. "All of a sudden him and his bike lit up," Zapalac said. "I felt when the thunder came -- I felt the concussion of it -- it was a pretty good jolt."

The rider managed to pull over to the shoulder and Zapalac stopped to make sure he was OK.

"Definitely disoriented but he was talking," Zapalec said. "He took his helmet off and his hair was singed," adding the inside of the helmet showed obvious signs of being hit by lightning.

The two drove to a nearby gas station, where they called 911 to summon a medic. The rider was eventually taken to Providence-Centralia Hospital with some burns and hearing loss and then was transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he is listed in satisfactory condition.

A lightning bolt also struck a traffic signal at N 105th Street and Aurora Avenue in North Seattle, leaving it in flashing red mode until DOT workers could repair the signal.

In Puyallup, lightning struck a tree outside Christine Gregg's home around 5:30 a.m.

"It killed our modem, CenturyLink service, wireless phones, router, (and) a bunch of light bulbs," Gregg said. "But the worst was the sound was deafening and rocked us all out of our beds from a dead sleep."

Thursday evening, power was also knocked out across a wide area around Gig Harbor as Tacoma Power said they lost power to 7 of their 8 substations. There was no word what caused the outage.

In Mason County, thunderstorms knocked out power to about 1,800. In Ocean Shores, storms briefly knocked out power to 1,500 people when a tree branch hit a power line.

Up near the mountains, heavy rains caused several mudslides that forced the closure of SR-410 about 9 miles west of U.S. 12. There is no estimate when the road will reopen.

Hail was also a factor around the area. A spotter reported half-dollar sized hail (1.25" diameter) in Chehalis while a spotter outside of Bellevue reported 1/2-inch sized hail.

The Chehalis storm was one of many that moved through the region as the sun rose Thursday -- an opening salvo in what promised to be a very stormy day across the region.

After a midday break, showers and thunderstorms are expected to increase in number and intensity in the late evening and early nighttime hours as a big area of low pressure moves through the Pacific Northwest and pumps a whole lot of moisture into a very unstable atmosphere.

Each thunderstorm overnight could bring rainfall at the rate of about an inch per hour -- about on par with the drenching storms we saw last Thursday. The storms have prompted a rare summertime Flood Watch for all counties in Western Washington and is in effect from noon Thursday through Friday afternoon.

This is enough rain that urban and small stream flooding is possible -- especially in areas where strong thunderstorms drop a big deluge in a short period. Mud and or rock slides are also possible in steep mountain terrain.

The National Weather Service does say that while mountain rivers will run high, traditional autumn-type river flooding is unlikely.

The weather rapidly improves in the storm's wake with just a few lingering showers early Saturday morning giving way to increasing sunshine and warmth with highs getting into the upper 70s.

By Sunday, we begin a new stretch of more summer-like weather with plenty of sunshine and highs near 80. That sunny and warm pattern is expected to last into early next week.